8 dead, 14 hospitalized in I-40 crash involving NC church bus

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Eight people died when a bus carrying church members home blew the left front tire, crossed the grassy median of Interstate 40 in eastern Tennessee, clipped an SUV and collided with a tractor-trailer before overturning, officials said Wednesday.

Six people on the eastbound bus were killed, along with one of three occupants of the SUV and the tractor-trailer driver, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a statement.

As of Thursday morning, two patients are still listed in critical condition, seven victims are in serious condition and another five victims are listed in stable condition.

Authorities probably will have to use dental records to identify some of the people who died

There were 18 people on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina, officials said. It was carrying senior adults who attend Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville.

The wreck occurred around 2 p.m. in Jefferson County, about 40 miles east of Knoxville, said Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls. It was on Interstate 40 near the split with Interstate 81.

After the bus went out of control, it struck the westbound Chevrolet Tahoe and the tractor-trailer, officials said. The tractor-trailer caught fire.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Wyatt said the church group was returning home from a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist Senior Pastor Tim Stutts, said the church did not have specifics on anyone traveling on the bus.

The church group was on its way back to Statesville from the 17th annual Fall Jubilee preaching and singing conference in Gatlinburg, Stutts said.

The names of the victims have not been released, but authorities said no juveniles were involved. The people on the bus were senior citizens, officials said.

Her husband was devastated by the news, Stutts said. He and the church youth minister were traveling to Tennessee.

Front Street Baptist, on its Facebook page, Wednesday evening thanked people for their prayers. “We know that God is in control and we need His comfort and peace,” a post read.

I-40 was closed, and traffic was being rerouted, according to state transportation officials. The road reopened on Thursday.

Investigators will look at the condition of the bus and check the driver’s qualifications and driving history, according to Miller.

Jerry Wright’s brother and sister-in-law were on the bus traveling back from Tennessee.

“If he’s wounded a little bit or hurt a little bit and can get over it that’s fine. As far as getting killed that would be hard to take,” Wright explained. “We are just hoping the good Lord is with them and everything is good.”

Front Street Baptist Church Pastor Rick Cruz held a prayer session Wednesday evening and said he is praying for his congregation.

“This is a time of difficulty, but we do trust in the God that he is there always,” Pastor Cruz said. “We do know there were several that went on to be with The Lord.”

Immediate families that feel they have family member involved in accident to call Red Cross at 865-305-5716.

Authorities said it is too early to say if there will be charges against bus driver.

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